Interview with Thrice: Sonnets, Alchemy And The Lash

Thrice (Myriam Santos-Kayda)Southern California quartet Thrice have zigzagged all over the map of musical styles in their nine year career, starting out as a post-hardcore hybrid in 1998 and landing most recently in atmospheric rock with 2004’s Vheissu. Through their forthcoming concept albums—yes, albums—four EPs structured on the four basic elements, Earth, Air, Water and Fire, Thrice have added another spike in their trail of bread crumbs, tackling their most challenging and potentially most rewarding project to date.

Thrice’s vocalist/guitarist and recent solo artist Dustin Kensrue took a break from recording these simultaneous EPs to discuss the elusive concept, his literary background and their progress recording so far, while assuring us that we can expect what’s tentatively being called The Alchemy Index “definitely in the fall.”

What was the inspiration behind the elemental concept?

It’s something that came into my head when I was half-asleep in the van one night. I grabbed onto it because I think our band is uniquely suited to do this. Our music creates this weird blend of sounds, and this is [us] trying to pull that apart and look at it separately. We decided to put them out all together so that everybody could have the full picture—to see the whole concept.

I think it’s important. We started by taking each element and writing small pieces of music that felt like they fit the certain mood and texture. From there we started weaving things out and building songs up. It was a slow process, figuring out what feels right, trying to make the whole project work, but also trying to balance it so that it doesn’t feel like one song.

How’s the recording going so far?

Very good. I’d say we’re maybe 85 percent done, and that’s including the mix. I’ve got a couple more songs to sing and a couple more to write lyrics to, but that means I’ve written like 20 songs already—that’s not bad for me. I write very slowly, and I’m a perfectionist. We’re trying to write differently and not overthink every little aspect, ‘cause you can work something to death, and we’ve done it before, so we’ve been writing as we record. I think it’s been good for us to get out of this rut of beating things into the ground.

Pretty much everything’s going into it. It’s all about trying to balance these records, so if we add a song, it’s to balance it more. Nothing can really fall out of the balance, but we don’t know what we’re gonna do about b-sides… maybe some remixes with people?

I know you and Teppei [Teranishi, guitarist] produced your solo record, Please Come Home. Are you guys also producing this project?

We’re all producing it ourselves. Teppei’s engineering it and mixing it—quite a workload on him, but it’s nice, things can happen that wouldn’t happen in a normal studio situation. You get the sound up, you play it, you don’t overthink it and it sounds great. I think Teppei’s gonna turn out to be a very good engineer and have a great future in that.

On your last record you incorporated new sounds/instruments, so along those lines, how have Thrice evolved this time around?

It’s definitely broader than anything we’ve done. There’s very stripped down, rootsy stuff on the Earth disc, and [for] people who [were] disappointed with the lack of riffy guitar work on the last record, there’s more of that on the Fire disc. There’s some new instruments, there’s some horns unlike anything we ever had.

I look at this whole thing as a means of us moving forward. A really good exercise that opens doors of what we’re able to do and what we’re perceived as able to do. It’s a big project, but there’s limits imposed, and I think limits help you to be creative. I can’t remember where I was reading this, but someone was saying how life is like writing a sonnet in that there are these guidelines and this structure, but within that structure you’re completely free to do what you want, and by that segue, I didn’t mean to do this, but I’m actually writing a classic English sonnet for each of the four elements. And they’re each put into a song, and they’ll be closing each of the four discs.